Robert McDowell, the latest nominee to the FCC, went in front of the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday, and by all accounts looks to have sailed through. McDowell is an interesting nominee, not least of which because of his position with the trade group Comptel, which lobbies in favor of "competition" on behalf of small telecom providers -- and which argued against the recent Verizon-MCI and SBC-AT&T deals. In the hearings, McDowell assured senators that he would hold no bias in his rulings and votes, and would recuse himself from any issues with conflicts of interest. That's the admirable and ethical thing to do, but the implication seems to be that to become an FCC commissioner, you have to say you'll play ball with the big telcos. This isn't to slam McDowell even before he's been confirmed, far from it -- he describes himself as a friend of consumers and an advocate of competition, two things the current FCC needs. But it seems like he had to assure the Senate committee that he wasn't too friendly with those pesky smaller operators, and wouldn't stand too much in the way of companies running over consumers. It would have been refreshing had he gone in and said, "Yes, I've worked with smaller competitors and that work has highlighted regulatory issues like line sharing, where competition is being hampered and ultimately the consumer is being hurt," if for no other reason than to see the senators' reactions (or at least the reactions of the three that bothered to turn up). While it's hard to doubt McDowell's credentials and his past work with regards to telecom competition makes him look like a good candidate, it's a shame that apparently he has to play that down to get the job.
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